Wow, we’re already into the second half of our Tonga 2018 season: how time flies when you’re having FUN! For this charter, we welcomed onboard a 50/50 mix of Americans and Europeans, and a great variety of individuals/couples/friends/family members/NAI’A newbies and returnees. We just love the wide range of people we have the opportunity to meet here in Tonga! All were super-excited to finally being onboard – many book this trip years in advance then wait more or less patiently for it finally to arrive – and quickly bonded as they looked forward to the days ahead.
After sailing from Tongatapu up to Hapa’ai overnight, we were delighted to wake up the first morning to the most incredible weather: blue skies, blazing sun and glassy calm seas. Not your average winter weather in Tonga, so an absolute delight! We were fortunate to be surrounded by whales the minute we hauled anchor and started exploring so we got out on the skiffs pretty early on and continued all day with only a short break for lunch. We reckon it must have been International Humpback Mom and Calf Day! We encountered several of the gorgeous duos, including some very playful babies coming right on up to our guests and saying hey. It was truly an incredible first day: there were endless smiles and laughter and even tears of happiness. These incredible animals can have that effect on you! We even overheard one of the guests saying he could ALREADY go home happy!
Photo Credit (All photos): Wyn
The next day we woke up and it was STILL calm and sunny! So, once again, we made the most of it and got on out there. And this day was made up of an assortment of really unusual humpback behavior, including some that we’d never witnessed before: very cool! In the morning, we were lucky enough to bear witness to what, we believe, must have been a male and a female right in the midst of a courting ritual. They were twisting and turning and so tactile with each other; stunningly beautiful and heartwarming. However, what really gave it away was the fact that the male was - errrrrm, how to put this….. – ‘hanging loose’, shall we say?! As in, there was a giant appendage quite clearly visible!! We’re sure we must have met the humpback Free Willy!! In the afternoon, we followed a mom and calf and saw them lying, side by side, right on the bottom in the sand. This was unusual, as from what we’ve always seen, baby is either tucked in with momma or swimming free: just lying side by side was quite different to anything we’ve ever seen, and made for a stunning silhouette from above. And THEN we were lucky enough to see the same momma breach whilst we were in water! She was resting peacefully one second, then launching herself straight out of the water the next: wow! There was even a spectacular show for those back on NAI’A in the afternoon: we pursued a mom and calf being fought over by three different potential escorts. The escorts were getting quite vicious with each other but we had to leave for our anchorage before any ‘winner’ became apparent! What a day…
Photo Credits (Clockwise from top left): Julie, Peter, Peter, Peter, Julie
The following day, we crossed ‘The Playground’ and headed to the island of Hafeva, where we got out on the skiffs. Our guests were fortunate enough to encounter ‘Sail Tail’, our favorite crazy whale who hangs perfectly still, upside down in the water with her entire tail sticking out above! We took a quick break for lunch and then got straight back out there. It was a slower start to the afternoon, with many whales around but all of them very much on the move or feeling skittish, nowhere near peaceful enough for us to jump in and join them. We did, however, benefit from another amazingly calm day with little wind: sitting still on the skiff, we could hear the most incredible whale song emanating from the water. We jumped in to listen better and it was SO loud we knew they must be close by, but always just far enough away that we couldn’t see them! Patience eventually paid off, as we all had the opportunity to enjoy a lovely mom/calf duo, with mom just hanging so peacefully in the water column, with baby bobbing up and down to see us. We finished up the day with a little night dive, with our divers coming back with reports of a sting ray and all sorts of cool macro life.
Photo Credits (Clockwise from upper left): Cary, Julie, Cary, Peter
We awoke the next morning to greyer skiers and stronger winds than previous days. However, in whale-watching terms that’s actually quite positive: for some reason, the whales seem to be much more visible and more active on the surface on choppier days than when it’s glass calm. And this morning stood up to such a hypothesis! Soon after hauling anchor, we came across an INSANE heat run, where a poor mom and her calf were being pursued by multiple large adults all vying viciously for her attentions. We suspect there was an established escort in the mix and the others were trying to compete and steal that position but we cannot say for sure. We watched for over an hour as the adults fought each other, charging at full speed, launching out of the water and throwing their tails and pecs around. By the end of it we could visibly see raw, bleeding wounds down the sides of some. It was probably the most physical, aggressive bull run we’ve witnessed and we felt very fortunate to have seen such a raw display of nature: though a little bit sad and sorry for the poor baby caught up in the mix! Eventually breaking ourselves away from the excitement, we headed towards the island of Uonoku and got out on the skiffs. Some of our guests had a beautiful encounter with a peaceful mom, while the others were treated to a breaching extravaganza: first a full-grown adult launching himself right in front of us, and then a crazy little baby breaching non-stop until exhausted! In the afternoon, we decided to spice things up a little and headed out for a scuba dive at DyNAIAmite. Divers came back with reports of two gorgeous eagle rays!
Photo Credits (Left, Top Right, Bottom Right): Big Mo, Cary, Steffen
The next day we were blessed with sunny skies again. After a morning presentation on migration patterns, feeding habits and mating/birthing/nursing, we got out on the skiffs to see what we could find. We were very fortunate to encounter a mom and baby with matching white wings! To see white pectoral fins in this part of the world is very rare, and a good sign that the gene pool is varied and healthy. The duo had a large escort with them, allowing them to relax and feel safe: we had an incredible in-water experience with them, extraordinarily peaceful and calm. However, the vibe changed noticeably when another escort came charging in and started competing for mom’s attention! It got fast-paced and aggressive very quickly, to the point we actually decided to get out of the water and continue to enjoy from the safety of the skiff. Later that day, many of our guests headed in to the beach for a change of scene and a stretch of the legs, and a few joined us for an after-dinner night dive. They came back having been treated to an enormous lobster and a playful octopus.
Photo Credits (Clockwise from upper left): Wyn, Steffen, Sandra, Big Mo
The fun continued the following day as we awoke to blue skies once more: we couldn’t believe our luck… Winter is Tonga is NOT always so lovely! We were very happy when we came across the dream mom and baby pair: relaxed and peaceful, quite content to be observed. They were so perfect, in fact, that we enjoyed our 90 minutes allowance in the morning, gave them a good couple of hours break over lunch, then were delighted that afternoon to see them still resting where we’d left them! We, of course, took advantage of such good fortune and got back on in with them. To begin with, they were as calm as we remembered that morning and it was an incredibly relaxing encounter. Then, seemingly from nowhere, baby got bored of resting and went on a crazy breaching fest! He must have launched out of the water a good 20 times in a row! Soon after, an escort tried to sneak in on momma, cunningly hanging right beside her while she was sleeping. She was having none of it, however, and soon shook him/her! We rounded off a fantastic day with a classic kava party on the dive deck (we were hoping for a beach bonfire but that’s another story….). Great fun was had by all! It was a late night for some, especially those who continued on to some extreme jigsaw action!
Things got a little tougher the day after, as we were faced with much stronger winds and much bigger waves. The morning was slow going but everyone remained in incredibly high spirits and determined that the afternoon would bring better luck. Well, the power of positive thought! We came across one of the friendliest babies we’ve ever met!! This little one was loopy: so, so playful and determined to charge in for a cuddle. We literally had to launch ourselves backwards to get out of his way! We were all laughing so hard. That evening we sent out our final night dive of the trip.
On our final day, we woke up to very strong winds which made it impossible to get out on the skiffs. However, we still had a wonderful time enjoying all the surface action from the comfort of NAI’A and felt quite content that we’d had so many incredible encounters in the previous days. That evening, we enjoyed a final buffet dinner together and settled in to watch the slideshow made up of everyone’s photos. What an end to an incredible trip! Thank you all so much for sharing this once in a lifetime experience with us. We hope to see you in Fiji for some great diving next time!
“Fantastic time. All the crew are amazing.” Sara & Rhian
“It was indeed a lifetime experience to swim with the whales!... Thank you a thousand times!” Esther & Ruedi
“Absolutely unforgettable” Aldo
“Thank you so much for making this experience of whale watching amazing!” Wyn & Carol
by Big Mo
by Big Mo
“NAI’A made a believer out of me! Fiji has been grossly underrated by both divers and scientists. Incredible fishes here and definitely worthy of protection.”
~ Dr. Gerry Allen, Ichthyologist & Author, Conservation International